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Trump Denials Are 'Rape Myths and Stereotypes 101,' Advocates Say

In Donald Trump's reaction to allegations of sexual assault and harassment, advocates hear an old playbook that explains why so few women report them.
IMAGE: Donald Trump
Donald Trump at a campaign rally Monday in Green Bay, Wis.Evan Vucci / AP

Over the past week, as Donald Trump vociferously denied multiple allegations of the same uninvited sexual behavior he was caught on tape bragging about, advocates and survivors of sexual assault and harassment were listening.

As with almost all things Trump, there was no subtext to his absolute denials, no carefully worded gloss or dog whistle, almost nothing to parse. Instead, Trump came out and said the nine women accusing him of groping or forcibly kissing them are ugly, crazy or lying.

"People don't come forward because they're afraid they're going to be treated this exact same way," said Kate Harding, author of the recent book "Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture — And What We Can Do About It"and a survivor of rape.

“Take a look, you take a look, look at her, look at her words, you tell me what you think. I don't think so. I don't think so.” — Donald Trump, Florida, Oct. 13

Harding said Trump is tapping into "rape myths and stereotypes 101." Among them, she said, is "the idea that rape or groping is a compliment, that it's something men can do because they can't control themselves."

"People of all body types, of all looks, all backgrounds, are victims of this kind of sexual abuse and harassment," she said. "It is much more about the perpetrator's sense of entitlement and desire to assert his dominance than it is about what the victim looks" like.

Shana L. Maier, a professor of criminal justice at Widener University in Chester, Pa., and author of "Rape, Victims, and Investigations", said she was "in shock" listening to Trump.

"Sexual assault has nothing to do with sexual desirability whatsoever," she told NBC News. "Many people who are sexual predators are currently having consensual sex. The entire cause of rape and sexual assault is to have power over another person."

"When you looked at that horrible woman last night, you said, I don't think so. Whoever she is, wherever she comes from, the stories are total fiction. They're 100 percent made up. Some are doing it for probably a little fame." — Donald Trump, North Carolina, Oct. 14.

Trump and several of his surrogates have also asked why these women have come forward now, in some cases — although not all — after decades of silence.

Jessica Leeds, who told The New York Times that Trump groped her on an airplane in the early 1980s, has said she decided to end her silence because she heard Trump deny at the second presidential debate that he had ever actually done what he described to Billy Bush in 2005.

"I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet," Trump said in the recently-unearthed recording. "Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab 'em by the pussy."

The audio was recorded on an Access Hollywood bus in the presence of others. Access Hollywood is an NBC Universal program.

As Leeds put it, "I wanted to punch the screen" as she watched the debate.

Lawyer Gloria Allred addressed the question directly in a news conference last week with Summer Zervos, a former "Apprentice" contestant who said Trump made unwanted sexual advances while she was seeking employment with his company.

"The answer is simple," Allred said. "Some may have held what they allege as a secret within them for many years. Some may have thought they would not be believed against what they thought would most likely be a complete denial by a rich, powerful celebrity.

Related: More Voters Say Trump Doesn't Respect Women After Lewd Tape

"Some may have feared the wrath and retaliation of Mr. Trump and some of his supporters. Some may have thought that they were the only ones who were victimized."

In just about every realm, not reporting sexual misconduct is far more common than reporting it is.

The Justice Department estimates that 65 percent of rapes and sexual assaults went unreported to the police from 2006 to 2010, a higher percentage than for non-sexual assaults. On campus, a federal nine-university "climate survey" (PDF) found that only 4.3 percent of sexual battery incidents and only 12.5 percent of rapes were reported to a campus or law enforcement official.

Related: The Allegations Women Have Made Against Donald Trump

According to a report by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces federal anti-discrimination law, when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace, "the least common response" is to "report the harassment internally or file a formal legal complaint."

"Roughly three out of four individuals who experienced harassment never even talked to a supervisor, manager, or union representative about the harassing conduct," it found.

EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum, a co-author of the report, told NBC News: "The primary reason to not report was fear. Fear of disbelief and inaction, of not being taken seriously, of being asked what their role was in the behavior."

"Believe me, she would not be my first choice, that I can tell you." — Donald Trump, North Carolina, Oct. 14.

She added: "The research shows that people just try to avoid it. Or you just try to live with it. They downplay the gravity of the situation. The most common response is to talk to friends and family for support. And if they can, economically or professionally, they leave the job."

Some victims of harassment are economically unable to leave their jobs or professional situations when they're being harassed. They may also compartmentalize things because of conflicting feelings about the person who harassed them.

"It's a kind of betrayal, that this person you worked for, or someone you admired or thought was an important guy, there's very often this experience of shock that it happened to you and not even believing it," said Gillian Thomas, a senior staff lawyer at the ACLU Women's Project and the author of "Because of Sex: One Law, Ten Cases and Fifty Years That Changed American Women's Lives At Work."

In what it said was a rebuttal to Zervos' claims, the Trump campaign released a statement from her cousin John Barry, a Trump supporter who disbelieved her account because "ever since she was on The Apprentice she has had nothing but glowing things to say about Mr. Trump."

The response echoed the one made in support of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings in October 1991, when his former EEOC employee Anita Hill testified that he had sexually harassed her: Why had she followed him to his next job in government?

Over the weekend, Allred held another news conference with Ann Russo, a social worker and friend of Zervos'.

"When Summer told me about Mr. Trump's sexually inappropriate behavior towards her, it was apparent she was conflicted about what Mr. Trump had done to her," Russo told reporters.

"How about this crazy woman on the airplane. OK, I mean, can anybody believe that one?" — Donald Trump, New Hampshire, Oct. 15.

"She had difficulty reconciling how a man she had so much respect for as a businessman could behave in such a callous manner. She felt betrayed," Russo said. "She continued to support him and viewed the sexual advances as a mistake that he must have regretted."

Although Trump has seen a conspiracy afoot in the number of women coming forward weeks before a presidential election, advocates say one accusation following another is a common dynamic.

"People are so afraid of retaliation that they do feel there might be some safety in numbers," Feldblum said.

Gillian Thomas said: "When other women start talking about it and say, 'Me, too,' it has an emboldening effect.

"The experience of being harassed is a very isolating one. There's a lot of questioning: Did I prompt this?" she said. "It feels safer to be the 10th person to come forward than to be the first."